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Three Days in Napa Valley - please help!

My wife and I will be spending 3 days in Napa Valley next week. We are a young couple in our 20s from NY who love all types of good food.

We do have a reservation for dinner at the French Laundry on our final night there, but we wanted to make the most out of our three days there, so we're looking for tips and suggestions from Chowhounders. Also, we don't know very much about wine, but would love to visit at least 3-4 good wineries during our time there, so recommendations on those would be most welcome as well. We'll be staying in Downtown Napa (the River Terrace Inn) during our trip.

This is what we have so far on our itinerary:

Day 1: Arriving in the afternoon - planning on walking around downtown Napa and checking out the Oxbow Market before dinner
Dinner reservations at Ad Hoc. Also considering Redd for dinner, but at this point Ad Hoc sounds more interesting.

Day 2: Lunch reservations at Redd/Bistro Jeanty. I know Bistro Jeanty is more classical French Bistro food, which we enjoy. Just wondering if Redd is a must-go restaurant on our trip, or if it's just another good restaurant on par with Bistro Jeanty/Ad Hoc.

Thinking of trying out Hog Island Oysters (we love oysters) before dinner.

Dinner reservations at Celadon. We probably want to try to stay in downtown Napa for dinner at least one of the nights (instead of driving to Yountville every night), so any suggestions besides Celadon (I've heard Cole's Chop House, but am not really interested in getting steak in Napa) would be most welcome.

Day 3: Early lunch reservations at Auberge du Soleil (since we have a 5:30 seating at TFL). Mainly going there for the view. Any thoughts on whether it makes more sense just to go to the Bistro instead of the Restaurant for lunch?

Dinner reservations at The French Laundry.

Any critique on the itinerary above as well as any advice on what to order at these places would be most appreciated.

We'll probably try to visit wineries before or after lunch on Days 2 and 3. We haven't really tried a lot of wines, but we know we like Rieslings, Muscats and generally sweeter, more fruit-like wine. Any suggestions on wineries that are good for beginners but offer more intimate and interesting experiences would be great. Thanks!

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  1. Your itinerary for food covers some of the highly recommended spots. As for day 2, Redd blows Bistro Jeanty out of the water. BJ is pretty average French bistro food and some things about it feel contrived and downright obnoxious like the faux decor and the piling on of the frites. So definitely chose Redd if you're deciding between those two.

    You might want to look into Ubuntu in downtown Napa to add a little variety too. Seems like you have a lot of the same kinds of food in your itinerary. There are lots of reports on Ubuntu here so I'll leave it to you to see if it's something you're interested in. Seems like you're aiming upscale, so Ubuntu might fit in and be a refreshing change of pace.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Shane Greenwood


      Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
      1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

      1. re: Shane Greenwood

        Yes, I've heard Ubuntu being mentioned countless times on this board, but I am a little put off by the vegetarian-bent (being a seafood/meat-lover). that being said, I'm willing to consider it if it really is that good.

        I think most of my itinerary covers french/new american cuisine - I wouldn't mind more variety, but I've just been going with the highest rated places I can find. It's easy to find good Italian in NYC so I've been staying away from the Italian places.

        1. re: kewlly

          Makes sense, it all depends on what your tastes are. I will say that your reservations about Ubuntu echo the common refrain from a lot of people. The script usually goes like this: it's just vegetables-I don't want a bunch of salads and sides-oh my god I had no idea it would be this good. Anyway, if by highly rated you mean official stars and such you are well on the right track. But there are lots of other places to eat that are great but not fancy or rated with stars. One thing you might try is a picnic lunch with some of the amazing food you can buy at Oxbow.

          1. re: kewlly

            Kewlly, I am a die-hard meat and seafood eater and am well-known for eating all sorts of offal and odd ingredients. That said, Ubuntu is hands-down my favorite restaurant west of the Mississippi (and I have eaten at a LOT of Michelin-starred restaurants).

            Give yourself the opportunity to try something that will really astound you, despite the lack of meet or seafood.

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              I'm with Carrie. I used to think it wasn't really a meal unless it include meat. I loved my lunch at Ubuntu.

            2. re: kewlly

              Personally, I wouldn't let the vegetable thing put you off. If you "don't want a steak in Napa", Ubuntu will give you a great, unique experience that's pretty much exclusive to Napa. I'm no vegetarian, and neither is my husband, but it's pretty spectacular food. It's almost revelationary that "vegetables" can taste that good, and it's in no way austere - the food is luscious. (and don't let the yoga studio put you off, either. It's a beautiful restaurant, comfortable, but still spectacular.) It would fit well in that 2nd night spot - I think it would work well between Ad Hoc & French Laundry.

              As for the rest of your itinerary, it sounds good, if ambitious. Personally, I struggle with 2 seated meals every day, but if you're up for it, more power to you. I love Ad Hoc, and Redd is a great restaurant. I don't think it's particularly unique, but the food is great. I'd say that you could skip it if you wanted to nosh on oysters and the other stuff you'll find at Oxbow.

              1. re: cyberroo

                I do agree with the ambitious comment - I think one fancy/heavy meal a day is really all we can handle well. The Ubuntu arguments are also pretty convincing. With that in mind, I'm thinking of the following amended itinerary now:

                Day 1: Dinner at Ad Hoc

                Day 2: Lunch at Redd
                Dinner at Ubuntu

                Day 3: Oxbow Market picnic lunch
                French Laundry dinner

                Basically am cutting out Auberge du Soleil (might still drive there for a drink if we have time), Celadon and Bistro Jeanty.

                1. re: kewlly

                  Sounds like a winning plan. I hope you post back after your trip and let us know how it all went down.

                  Since you're a meat eater be sure to check out The Fatted Calf to pick up some meaty bites for your picnic. It's part of the Oxbow experience. http://www.fattedcalf.com/

                  1. re: kewlly

                    all good changes, i would opt for Bottega in Yountville over Redd, it is definitely the hot spot in that neighborhood, Go Fish in St. Helena is another fun lunch spot, Martini winery across Hwy 29 has great cabernets too. Enjoy!

                    1. re: kewlly

                      All great, kewlly, except for Oxbow Market picnic lunch. I'm not a fan, except for Fatted Calf and Model Bakery. Weird industrial feel. Consider Sunshine Foods, Oakville Grocery, Dean & Deluca, even Whole Foods in Napa.

                      Will you spending any time upvalley (as we say here)? So far, your spots are only as far north as Yountville, and the great expansive beauty of the valley doesn't begin until you're north of there.

                      I'd really urge you to spend time in St.. Helena, Rutherford, and Oakville, driving Silverado Trail, and the sweet crossroads. I'd also suggest you spend as little time in the city of Napa as possible, except for at night, like at Ubuntu. You need to catch the spectacular beauty of this place while you're here.

                      Are you doing any wine-tasting?

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Concur with ML -- she's in the know! Downtown Napa doesn't have much going for itself as far as towns are concerned.

                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                          If that's the case, maybe I'll just stick with Auberge du Soleil for lunch on my last day in Napa instead of the Oxbow Market. Somewhere in our trip we are also planning on going to a spa in Calistoga.

                          We definitely want to visit 3-4 wineries during our time there, and I imagine most of them will be upvalley. Any thoughts on whether it's a better idea to do wine-tastings in the morning or afternoon, given the weather? Also, if we are driving, how many wine-tastings a morning/afternoon is safe to do?

                          ML, would you have a suggested traveling itinerary to cover some of the upvalley spots given the three day schedule I have? I imagine visiting most of these upvalley places during days 2 or 3, but we don't want to make the entire trip too packed/rushed either. Thanks for the feedback!

                          Day 1: Arrive in Napa around 4-5pm
                          Dinner at Ad Hoc (Yountville)

                          Day 2: Lunch at Redd (Yountville)
                          Dinner at Ubuntu (Napa)

                          Day 3: Auberge du Soleil (Rutherford)
                          French Laundry dinner (Yountville)

                          1. re: kewlly

                            Since you are heading north, and you like food, I recommend making a stop at the CIA Greystone for a quick visit. It is just north of St Helena and is in the old, historic Chistian Brothers Winery building. It's a massive rock-face building set on the side of the hill with great views. The restaurant polarizes people on CH, but I find it to be ideal for a glass of wine and a small plate or two at their bar or on their deck over looking vineyards. Also, their cooking store is like porn for homecooks. It's right off the main road and is a nice way to spend an hour or so.

                            1. re: kewlly


                              I take it you like white wines, mainly. Is that correct? Have you thought of going to a sparkling (Champagne) winery? If so, Schramsberg is excellent, and between St. Helena and Calistoga.

                              Do you drink red wine? Would you like to taste red wine? Let me know so I can make some recommendations based on your preferences. Just so you know, we don't make much Riesling here, though we excel in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the oddball white variety. There are only a few Rieslings here in Napa Valley, so I'd urge you (if white wine is your only option), to concentrate while you're here on the whites we make well. You may find some delightful new tastes!

                              FYI, here is a New York Times short article on Napa Rieslings:

                              This Chowhound thread has wine recs that may be helpful to you also:

                              By the way, not that you asked but I'd eat the lightest lunch possible before French Laundry. Truly. Just a few bites of an appetizer or small salad and that's it. You really want your stomach to be ready for FL. Be sure to let your server know your wine preferences at dinner, and he will suggest a couple of glasses to have with your meal as it progresses. Another opportunity to taste something new that you may really love. You may also want to ask your server all along your visit here for a wine recommendation for a particular dish. Many times the restaurant will offer you a small taste of something to make sure it is to your liking before you order a full glass.

                              Good luck to you. This is such a wonderful place.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Thank you!

                                Yes, whites are the preferred, and we are pretty open minded about trying the best Napa has, including some reds too. Are there wineries that have good varieties of both?

                                Our TFL reservation is at 5:30pm, I think we might just try to have breakfast and skip lunch altogether to get ourselves ready. Are wines reasonably priced at FL?

                                1. re: kewlly

                                  About wine at the French Laundry:
                                  Lots more threads on FL, if you'd like to do a search.

                                  I think you might like very much Schramsberg for bubbly, the single-vineyard Chardonnay tasting (about 4-6) at Nickel & Nickel, Stony Hill for both Riesling and world-class Chardonnay, Pride Mountain for very fine Chardonnay and Viognier plus a whole bunch of fantastic reds.

                                  Please also feel free to do a search for Napa Valley white wines. But I think I've chosen some of the best for your preferences right here. You will need to make reservations. Have a wonderful time.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Going to do Schramsberg one morning, and Heitz Cellars and Stoney Hill the next day. Are there any good eats around Schramsberg/Calistoga? Thinking of staying around that area instead of heading back to Yountville for lunch at Redd.

                                    1. re: kewlly

                                      Martini House in St. Helena is wonderful.

                                      Also, please read this current thread about Schramsberg and environs.

                              2. re: CarrieWas218

                                Yup. Always heed ML

                                I was going to say "don't miss St. Helena" as well -- it's the most charming of the Napa Valley towns by a wide margin (IMHO), and there are several excellent restaurants there (Terra, Martini House, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, etc.). Plus, there's Woodhouse Chocolates and the olive oil place.

                  2. If you're not super wine knowledgeable, you might just enjoy some places for other attributes such as the beautiful setting and view from Artesa just outside of town in the west countryside of Napa, and Hess Collection for the beautiful setting in the redwoods and the art collection . . . both of these places have nice wines and tours too.
                    Regarding Auberge, since you will be splurging at TFL that night, you might enjoy lunch on the deck at Auberge where things are served outside - casual, but tasty and upscale with a view that is so pretty. Also for the view of the western hills and their gardens, lunch at Brix on their outdoor terrace is hard to beat. Both Coles and Celadon will give you a great meal, but if you aren't wanting steaks, probably best to avoid Coles. Celadon has a really pleasant outdoor dining area. The patio area at Angele, just a short walk from Celadon, is also very nice on a warm day or evening.

                    1. As far as wineries g, I would contact Karl Lawrence -- they work out of the garage behind Sequoia Grove. Also, while expensive and touristy, Del Dotto is *great* for tourists, especially those wo do not know a lot about wine. You can drive to Carneros -- not so far from the twon of Napa -- and visit Etude and/or Domaine Carneros (which is mostly sparkling whites). All of these places (except Domaine Carneros) require an appointment. You won't find much (decent) Riesling or Muscat in Napa. It is mostly Cabernet with some Zin, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay thrown in for good measure.

                      1. Second (fourth?) on maria lorraine's recommendation that you get out of the city Napa. It's the Napa Valley wine country north of there that's world-famous for wine and scenery. The city and other boosters have been spending a lot of money to attract valley-bound tourists (e.g. Oxbow and the bankrupt Copia) but it doesn't really have much going for it.

                        That said, get some meaty snacks at Fatted Calf.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Robert sums it up well. A few meaty snacks and a nice baguette from Oxbow (should be convenient to your hotel, if I'm thinking of the right one) would be ideal to nibble on after or between wine tastings and allow you to skip lunch before the French Laundry.

                          As for how many wine tastings you can do while still driving, it's not rude to taste and spit the wine into a cup or the small buckets you'll see on counters when you go wine tasting. It's much better than the alternative, which is drunk and obnoxious winery guests who have no ability to tell good wine from bad by the end of the day. It will also keep your driving within legal parameters, which is pretty important because the county continually deals with drunk driving issues and has a pretty strict enforcement policy.

                          Edited to add: Dean & DeLucca has a store north of St. Helena on highway 29. It has great picnic supplies and odds and ends of high end goods, but if you've done the one in NYC it won't be that different.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Trip report time! Sorry it's taken a while for me to post back. This is what we ended up doing over our short 3 day trip there. Overall, a great trip, with lots of good food, but this is going to be a long review…

                            Dinner at Ad Hoc
                            - Our favorite meal of the trip. We liked the casual vibe of the place, and felt like it was a well-executed meal overall, in addition to being good value for money. We started off with a baby lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, roasted pistachios, onions and a green goddess (avocado-based) dressing. I'm not a big salad person, but I was won over by the freshness of the ingredients, the the sweetness and crunchiness of the pistachios and the creaminess of the green goddess dressing. The dressing was so good we pretty much licked our plates clean of it. Next was the buttermilk fried chicken (we were lucky to have scheduled our trip during one of their fried chicken nights, as we didn’t even know the schedule in advance). We had high expectations after reading a lot about the chicken and we’re glad to report that it lived up to the hype. Extremely crispy skin, moist and tender meat and just the right mix of salty and tangy. They gave us a generous portion (I think it was 7 pieces), and we finished 6 pieces there and the remaining piece in our hotel room the next day. The chicken came with sides of buttery and delicious corn on the cob with some lime salt sprinkled on top, as well as some black-eyed peas with tasso ham, which we didn’t care too much for. We finished off the meal with a light yogurt granite dessert and some pine nut cookies from Bouchon Bakery.


                            - Went there on recommendations from Chowhounders. Fun tour of the caves,
                            good sparkling wines, glad we went there

                            Lunch at Taylor's Refresher

                            - Stopped by the joint near Headelsburg since it was close to the wineries and we wanted a quick lunch. We had a cheeseburger, fish tacos and an order of sweet potato fries. The fish tacos were disappointing - the ingredients didn't blend well together, and the grilled mahi mahi didn't really have a great texture. The cheeseburger wasn't bad - the egg bun it was served on was definitely unique, but overall it wasn't as good as Shake Shack and some of our other favorite burgers in New York. Sweet potato fries were pretty addictive.

                            Happy Hour at Hog Island Oysters at Oxbow Market

                            - Since I love seafood and meat and knew we weren't going to get any at Ubuntu, we took advantage of the happy hour special at Oxbow to try their oysters. The $1 oysters were good (I think we had a dozen each), but we liked their regular menu selections (some mix of kumamotos and mystic oysters) better. Still, hard to go wrong at these prices.

                            Dinner at Ubuntu

                            - This was probably the most unique food we had on our trip. We started off with the Carta Musica, which was essentially their "garden on a plate" dish. It definitely was a strange experience biting into the large pile of colorful flowers and greens. The cheese and crispy shell helped add some normality of texture and taste to the dish, and while it wasn't a bad experience, I don't think I'll be craving the dish anytime soon. We followed that with some English peas in pea consomme, with sprinkles of chocolate and mint on top. Again, a unique dish which tasted okay, but not particularly memorable for me. Next came the cauliflower served in a cast-iron stone pot and a "southern breakfast" dish, which consisted of a perfectly cooked soft-poached egg, grits and smoked mushroom slices that tasted remarkably similar to bacon. Both dishes were excellent, and I can totally see why the restaurant has its fair share of fans. We finished off with the cheesecake in a jar dessert, which was creamy, smooth and had the right mix of tangy and sweet flavors.

                            Visit to Frog's Leap Winery and Pride Mountain vineyards
                            - We had a fun time on the Frog's Leap tour, which was interesting since the winery prided itself on its organic approach to producing wine. Staff extremely cheery and helpful, fun to walk through their gardens and see their organically grown fruit and some poultry. Pride Mountain offered a nice sweeping view, excellent cab and a pretty comprehensive mini-tour thrown in with the $5 tasting fee.

                            Dinner at the French Laundry
                            After pretty much starving ourselves most of the day to get ready for our dinner at the French Laundry, expectations were sky-high when we opened the blue door and walked into the dining room. My first impression was that the space actually felt a little cramped (we were sitting by the wall, and there was a large table set up in the middle of the room pretty close to us). We’ve never been to Per Se, but given what we’ve read in reviews, it sounds like the setting might actually be more spacious there. That being said, we definitely enjoyed being able to walk around the French Laundry vegetable garden across the street before the meal, as well as being able to take a little bit of a break before our dessert courses arrived sitting in the garden right outside the dining room. Anyway, food-wise, highlights of the meal were the oysters and pearls (decadent and creamy), the Snake River Farms “Calotte De Boeuf Grillee” (marbled fat goodness with the perfect amount of char, sear and saltiness) and the Coffee and Doughnuts dessert, which wasn’t on our tasting menu (but we had called to request in advance). The Foie Gras and Brioche was excellent as well. Some misses – a fennel salad, which was our second course, was pretty uninspiring, while the next dish, a grilled tuna dish tasted a little overcooked. The desserts, a dark chocolate cake and a lemon meringue, were also pretty disappointing, especially given our expectations of excellence for the meal. Service was overall efficient, but as some have pointed out on this board, felt pretty clinical and distant for the most part, and we ended on a rather sour note when our mignardises (the little chocolates and sweets at the end of the meal) weren’t served to us, but rather packed in a box and given to us as a parting gift. We had an early 5:30pm seating, and it was pretty obvious to us that they were trying to get us out at 9pm for the next seating, but the way they rushed the check to us without us asking for it, or us showing any sign of wanting to leave and the fact that we ended feeling rushed out instead of being encouraged to linger really left us disappointed with the service and the meal as a whole. We’ll probably still try Per Se sometime down the road, but unfortunately the experience as a whole did not live up to our expectations, and in comparison to some of the top dining experiences we’ve had in Paris, where language was a barrier (neither of us speak any French), the service we received at TFL was really lacking warmth and generosity.

                            1. re: kewlly

                              Nice report. Thanks. If you visit again, we will have a idea of what you do and don't like

                              The French Laundry
                              6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                              Ad Hoc
                              6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

                              Gott's Roadside
                              933 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574

                              Pride Mountain Vineyards
                              4026 Spring Mountain Rd, St Helena, CA

                              Frog's Leap Winery
                              8815 Conn Creek Rd, Rutherford, CA

                              Schramsberg Vineyards
                              1400 Schramsberg Rd, Calistoga, CA

                              Hog Island Oyster Co
                              610 1st St, Napa, CA